Race, Racism, Whiteness–Why I Write



As a white dude teaching black studies I’m often asked, “Why are you teaching Black studies?”

My friend the philosopher Michael Monahan writes about this question in the beginning of his book The Creolizing Subject.

Here are my top five reasons for teaching Black studies:

(1) Racism is the most fundamental social problem we face today. The problem of the 21st century is the global “color line.”

(2) Philosophy is critical thinking.  We need critical thinking most in areas where it is hardest to think critically.  We should be interrogating whiteness.

(3) Innovative, dynamic, and exciting philosophical work is being done today by philosophers of color.  Traditionally, philosophy has been one of the whitest, most colonized disciplines in the academy. Whereas disciplines like History, Anthropology and English started the process of decolonization in the 1970s, Philosophy has only begun to face its whiteness in the last twenty years.  It is a good time to be a philosopher; philosophy is becoming more open, more diverse, and more interesting than ever before.

(4) My theoretical perspective, Black Existentialismis not the same as my body, which is a white, male body.  Interestingly, if I say my theoretical perspective is “French Existentialism,” my white, male American body gets a free pass.  It is assumed to be natural that a “white” American would study a “white” European author.  The disruption caused by my being a white Black Existentialist is a productive disruption.  The disruption can help us name the theoretical and demographic whiteness of philosophy.

(5) It is easier to be a white person writing about blackness than to be a black person writing about blackness.  I feel compelled to study and talk about whiteness.  As Richard Wright might say, “we don’t have a black problem, we have a white problem.” As a Black Existentialist, I urge my University to hire black staff and black faculty at a rate that reflects the demographics of the 21st century.